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Russell on Labor, Leisure and Society Essay

Everybody works. Every individual is subject to the undeniable and perhaps unfortunate reality that is the labor system. People have needed to toil away in the confines of factories, offices, and so on, day in and day out for the greater extent of their lives in order to earn tax dollars so they can provide certain needs and luxuries for themselves and their families. This particular ideology comes as an unsurprising reality which has been generally acknowledged in society and in every individual’s consciousness for the better part of human existence.

People are obligated to commit to the safety and security afforded by a paying job, employment is viewed as a responsible, and sometimes, even noble undertaking which every individual and citizen should necessarily undertake. Of course, not all work exists as drudgery and unpleasantness, other people actually do like their work, and some are even passionate about it; but more often than not, “some” and “other people” constitute either the middle class or upper echelons of scoiety.

People who belong to the lower class, – which is, to put it bluntly – the poor, are less likely to have a say on the matter where work and employment is concerned. But the British philosopher and social critic, Bertrand Russell, provides a particularly different perspective on the subject matter. Russell’s opinions about the division of work, the importance of leisure, and the need to balance both aspect for the greater good of humanity, encompassing both rich and poor, departs from the conventions and ideology naturally associated with the subject matter.

In an essay entitled “In Praise Of Idleness” (1932), the British philosopher relates strong sentiments regarding the aforementioned subject, by essentially pronouncing, “A great deal of harm is being done in the modern world by belief in the virtuosness of work, and that the road to happiness and prosperity lies in an organized diminution of work. ” (Russell). Of course, Bertrand Russell prefers to deviate from the said belief.

Russell chooses not to subscribe to the false nobility and virtuousness associated with work, and instead argues – as the title of the essay may already connote – that engaging in the act of leisure is as important, and may even be of greater significance than the act of work, and that every individual should be allowed to pursue it, or be essentially entitled to it regardless of class or social standing. Russell further argues that in order for people to pursue respective interests outside of work and engage in the act of leisure, conventional working days should be cut back to as much as three days a week, and four hours a day.

This shift in labor will ensure employment for the greatest population possible (as less work will mean the need for more people), and allow for the growth of individuals as multi-faceted and multi-dimensional human beings who should not be confined to a singular aspect of themselves because of the strictures and obligations of work. The population will also be more satisfied and content with the even balance of ‘labor’ and ‘idleness’ and are likely to be more productive.

The premise of Bertrand Russell’s ideas regarding the significance which should be ascribed to leisure and idleness, and of cutting down working hours and working days may seem audacious, but the points and reason behind them are more than plausible. He affirms it by writing, “In a world where no one is compelled to work more than four hours a day, every person possessed of scientific curiosity will be able to indulge it, and every painter will be able to paint without starving…

At least one per cent will probably devote the time not spent in professional work to pursuits of some public importance, and, since they will not depend upon these pursuits for their livelihood, their originality will be unhampered. ” (Russell). Under this premise, Russell believes that his argument regarding labor and leisure should be necessarily afforded to individuals of every social class and standing. In as much as the rich are entitled to idleness and the pursuit of leisure, so should the working class individuals who toil even harder, and who deserve this small comfort, be necessarily afforded it.

To resort to the present conventions of work in the modern world would mean subscribing to the confines of what the British philosopher regards as “a slave state,” further appealing that this shouldn’t be the case as “the modern world has no need of slavery. ” Of course, this is hardly a perspective and ideology that is likely to be acknowledged and implemented anytime soon, but it is nonetheless an alternate possibility that one hopes will be given much regard in the future.

As to the consequence of such a premise in which works hours are shortened and leisure is pursued for all involved, the British philosopher essentially and rather playfully concludes, “Above all, there will be happiness and joy of life, instead of frayed nerves, weariness, and dyspepsia. ” (Russell). Works Cited “In Praise Of Idleness by Bertrand Russell. ” 28 February 2008. <http://www. whywork. org/rethinking/leisure/russell. html>

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